A contentious, incredibly expensive election is now in the rearview mirror, and the incumbent President Obama has secured four more years to address the major issues facing the United States. But choosing between presidents wasn’t the only important measure on the ballot. Issues involving the legalization of same sex marriages and medical or recreational marijuana use were major causes in many states, as were the contested senate, house and gubernatorial seats. In the state of California several initiatives were promoted extensively, and whether they passed or failed will have a real impact on the state’s ability to balance the budget and improve the lagging quality of California schools. Possibly the most campaigned about proposition on this fall’s ballot was Prop 37, which dealt with the decision of whether or not to require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. Prop 37 was turned down, but that may not be the end of the battle.
Saying ‘no’ to Prop 37 basically meant California’s electorate is content to purchase food without any GMO labeling. The prop passed by a 6% margin in the popular vote, meaning the large state will remain in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s decades old labeling policy. But the fact that Prop 37 wasn’t passed is a significant event. When it was first announced, polls showed support at two-to-one levels inside of California. And national polls showed a 90% support for requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled.
So how did this come about? Many analysts point to a massive publicity campaign successfully executed by the special interests against the new requirements. Billboards and television and internet ads abounded in the last months leading up to the election, and the prop’s detractors spent a whopping $55 million to counteract that early public support. In comparison, the ‘yes’ camp spent just under $9 million. That’s by no means insignificant, but was simply not enough to compete with the other side’s spending.
And when you look at who was involved in that campaign, it is all too easy to see where the money came from. According to a nonpartisan campaign spending organization, Monsanto was the largest funder of the ‘No on Prop. 37’ campaign. The food conglomerate that has been long derided for their monopolistic tendencies and for creating the deadly poison Agent Orange funneled more than $8 million into the campaign. Some of the other big funders for that side included huge names like DuPont, BASF Plant Science, PepsiCo, Bayer, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods. Each of those companies gave upwards of seven figures to the campaign.
On the other side of the fence were companies such as the Organic Consumers Fund, Amy’s Kitchen and Nature’s Path Foods. Each of those companies and the other organic or naturally-focused corporations involved gave six figures to the efforts. From their perspective, Californians deserved to know what is in the products they are buying, just as consumers in more than sixty other countries currently have the right to. The other campaign built on fears that the prop would lead to costly lawsuits and increased food bills for consumers, two things that no one wants in a recession economy. And they leaned on the FDA’s support, who declared there is no evidence than any GMOs causes health issues, whether they appear in eggs, milk or some designer fruit flavored protein powder. Chances are this isn’t the last bill of this kind that will come up for a vote. But Californians and companies that are passionately speaking out against GMOs will have to find deeper pockets if they want to take on the big boys fighting to avoid these requirements.